As I write this article, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the good news is 2020 is over, we have viable vaccines and we are hopefully seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I recently reached out to ASA member company representatives engaged in overseeing the company’s occupational safety and health programs and asked them to share lessons learned from 2020. The following is a synopsis of the comments received, and I thank everyone who took the time to respond.
POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
- Establish policy, protocols and procedures at the start. Chasing a pandemic through ongoing policy additions and revisions (or any other threat for that matter) can lead to an incoherent plan with holes and can confuse employees on what the most current guidance is;
- A detailed cleaning/sanitation schedule was critical to keeping our team safe;
- A disaster preparedness plan and/or task force is a must. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies considered these plans “nice to have” rather than essential. Company leadership now understands why safety professionals have always recommended that there be task forces or disaster preparedness plans in place for all organizations; and
- Ensure the company’s vendors and suppliers have safety programs in place so they will be able to supply them if we have anything like this again.
- Communication was vital as we navigated through very uncertain times;
- Increase the frequency of communication such as daily videos or emails from our CEO;
- There is a behavioral and emotional side that cannot be forgotten. Focus on empathy, vulnerability and grace, and be sure to check in with your team members regularly and ask how their families are doing;
- Over communicate and overeducate, since the best way to take away fear is to inform and educate; and
- It takes a team effort, and you and the entire team are in this together.
Our diligence must continue going forward in communicating the importance of the policies and procedures you have set in place to protect everyone in the work environment.
- Immediately create a task force through which all policies are approved, communications dispersed and decisions are made. The task force should meet at least once a week during the crisis;
- Create one phone number and email address (manned or overseen by a task force member) to which employees directly send questions and concerns;
- Create one phone number and email address (manned or overseen by a task force member) to which all customer and vendor questions and concerns may be sent; and
- Post official policies, printable signs, PPE reorder info, cleaning checklists, etc. in one location, accessible to all employees, customers and vendors.
Although my question to ASA member representatives did not specifically focus on what to anticipate in the future and the potential impact on the safety profession, I did receive some interesting feedback from the responders such as:
- During the pandemic, organizations have had to conduct risk assessments versus relying on regulatory guidance, and that has resulted in cross-department collaboration. This teamwork will lead to better decision-making moving forward in our new normal;
- The pandemic is causing safety professionals to focus on protecting worker health in addition to safety;
- Hierarchy of Controls is gaining traction, and engineering and administrative controls not seen in the workplace previously are becoming the norm; and
- The safety professional will become more engaged in the C-Suite and being involved in strategic planning and business continuity.
There were two specific comments I received that I think are best suited for closing out this article. The first one is, “Do not let our guard down! It is not over.” We are all weary and tired of the pandemic and its impact on us, our employees and family members. Our diligence must continue going forward in communicating the importance of the policies and procedures you have set in place to protect everyone in the work environment.
Secondly, “If companies do not conduct a ‘lessons learned’ from this pandemic, they will repeat the same missteps.” I believe we instinctively understand this concept but it is always an easy path back to doing it the way we have always done it. Don’t let those new policies, procedures, and plans sit on the shelf; set up a plan for revisiting and updating. Continue those valuable lessons learned about communication and transparency with your employees. Finally, never stop learning and continually improving and planning for the next disaster.
Again, thanks to all those who responded to my questions, and I encourage others who read this article to provide any additional thoughts they may have. If I receive sufficient new ideas on the subject I will definitely write a Part II of this article.
Stay safe and healthy.